Review – Marlena by Julie Buntin



By Julie Buntin

SummaryAn electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.

Source: BOTM Club pick

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Marlena was a well written and haunting story about Cat, a 30 something with a drinking problem and a past. The book mainly took place in the past where Cat was 15 and drawn to her neighbor, Marlena, who was troubled and addicting. Marlena was like the movie Thirteen with a tragic ending. 

The book was full of great passages throughout that truly capture Cat’s feelings and the chaotic and hypnotic person that was Marlena. I could relate in many ways because I was pretty much a good kid who got good grades and was often drawn to the troublemaking and carefree girls when I was Cat’s age. Fortunately, I never got quite so deep, but Cat’s POV was one I recognized to some degree. 

With that being said, I’m a bit surprised by the sheer number of overwhelmingly positive reviews. Marlena was very tough to get into and it lost me multiple times. I felt like there was a lot more telling instead of showing, even though the words came together in a way that I could appreciate, I felt very disconnected. Even Cat, who was a character I could identify with, felt just out my grasp as a character. Everyone was distant and I never really connected with or cared about them. Perhaps the constant shift from present and past and back again was to blame for some of the disjointed feelings, but I think the book was written in a more passive way than it should’ve been in order to fully capture the way Marlena impacted Cat as a person. 

Marlena was good, but it fell short of my expectations. It wasn’t as gritty as I wanted it to be. As much as I enjoyed the more passive character in the beginning, I felt like the book needed to be more in-my-face in order to truly tell the story well. Cat was immersed in Marlena’s lifestyle, but the writing made her still seem removed from it. 

Star 3


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